For most of three weeks, they held back their demons, fought off their fears, huddled tight against their traditional October chill.In the end, though, the Dodgers couldn’t stop the raucous, relentless flood of history.
In a creaky Wrigley Field that swayed with joy, the Chicago Cubs rewrote it. In a cramped visiting dugout that reeked of doom, the Dodgers repeated it.
For the first time in 71 years, the Cubs are going to the World Series. For the 28th time in 28 years, the Dodgers are not.
Even with the planet’s best pitcher on the mound and the sport’s highest payroll in the clubhouse, the Dodgers were once again no match for a team with more talent, more belief, and more strength to fend off the powerful ghosts of autumn failure.
On a Saturday night when their deftness on the diamond was matched by dancing on the nearby neighborhood streets, the Cubs handled the pressure and the Dodgers, winning, 5-0, in Game 6 to clinch the National League Championship Series, four games to two.
When the game ended appropriately on a double-play grounder by, appropriately, Yasiel Puig, the difference in the journeys was obvious in both the jubilation and the disillusionment.
The Cubs tossed gloves and leaped into arms while their fans threw water bottles high into the sky and hugged deep into the night. The adjoining streets were jammed with thousands of folks who had jauntily paraded from the bars to surround the stadium and press upon their heroes to join in on the magic.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, trudged off and disappeared behind closed clubhouse doors for nearly 30 minutes, the only words spoken by Manager Dave Roberts, who entered a cramped media room and tried to explain.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a sour taste,” he said.
The Cubs, ultimately attempting to win their first World Series in 108 years, will remember this as one burden shed. The Dodgers will remember it only as one burden added.
Clayton Kershaw, who seemingly raced ahead of his October ghouls by helping the Dodgers to victory in all four of his previous appearances in this postseason, was cursed again in a performance so perplexing one must acknowledge that he has not completely conquered his October big-game madness. He gave up five runs, four earned, in just five innings, and the ending optics aren’t great. In the Dodgers’ final game in three of the last four postseason failures, Kershaw has been the starting pitcher.
“This day is never fun, the end of the season,” said Kershaw. “You look back and just kind of think of the season as a whole and it’s tough to swallow tonight, obviously, but I’d much rather be in this situation and fail then not get to be in this situation at all.”
Kershaw, maintaining his trademark positivity, added, “As much as this does hurt and as much as I would have liked to have won tonight, I’m really thankful to be on a team that has gotten to be in the postseason four years in a row and really thankful for the group of guys in that clubhouse that kind of have your back in these types of situations and really thankful that I get to come back next year and try again.”
It’s more difficult to be positive about the Dodgers offense, which had been so timely in taking a two-games-to-one lead in this series. It continued a collapse that led to a 23-6 total beating in these final three straight losses, managing just two hits Saturday on some quick and awful plate appearances against soft-tossing right-hander Kyle Hendricks. They constantly let him off the hook with things like an eight-pitch first inning and fifth inning.
And the Dodgers struggled all season against left-handers. Anybody else think they need to spend this winter finding a power-hitting outfielder who can hit lefties?
Finally, there was the Dodgers’ focus, so fine for so long under the passionate Roberts, finally disintegrating under the weight of the highest of stakes. Andrew Toles literally took his eye off a drive to left field in the first inning, the ball glancing off his glove and keeping alive an uprising that eventually led to the second of two Cubs runs. Soon thereafter in the second inning, with the Dodgers still down 2-0, Josh Reddick ended the inning by getting picked off first base with Yasmani Grandal at the plate.
“You know what, I think that they beat us,” Roberts said. “We made mistakes. And you hate to have sour grapes, but the better team won the series.”
You know what, this final chapter was almost over before it started.
The Cubs skipped onto the field dancing, waving and preening with joy. The neighborhood streets were already packed with fans wearing ancient salt-stained Cubs caps, aging wrinkled Cubs shirts, and some even dressed as Cubs players from 1908.
Meanwhile, Dodgers trudged out as if walking to an execution, and that’s what it soon felt like.
Fans were chanting “Ker-shaw, Ker-shaw,” the press box was literally shaking with the rumble below, and players were clapping in unison with the crowd.
A leadoff ground-rule double by Dexter Fowler, a Kris Bryant single, Toles’ error, a Ben Zobrist sacrifice fly, and Kershaw was making his own kind of history.
It was the first time Kershaw gave up more than one run in the first inning in 44 starts dating to 2015. Also, his 30 pitches in the first inning were his most since 2011. When he finally left the mound after a night of missed spots and shaky stuff, his three season-ending playoff starts in the last four years look like this: Fifteen innings, 14 earned runs.
Of course, he didn’t have any help, leading to fatigued Corey Seager speaking in frustration after a series in which he had just one RBI and no extra-base hits.
“We didn’t execute. We missed spots. We didn’t make plays,” he said. “We weren’t getting hits when we needed to get them. There’s no excuses for that. We just didn’t execute.”
The most typical play of the game occurred with Joc Pederson at the plate in the second inning. As Hendricks delivered his first pitch, a bright red roman candle exploded beyond the center-field fence. Pederson was clearly distracted and tried to step out off the box, but umpire Ted Barrett wasn’t buying it. Strike one. Two pitches later, Pederson struck out and just walked away shaking his head.
On this final night of a memorable season for the improbable bunch from Chavez Ravine, nothing was going to interfere with the Cubs’ party, or stop the Dodgers’ pain.